Abigail Schulte, a graduate student in agricultural and biological system engineering, chose Iowa State to work on the challenge of optimizing solid-state anaerobic digestion of prairie grass and dairy manure. And one unexpected discovery has been the importance of communicating the what and the why of her research.
Hands-on research experience is building our skills and putting our classroom education into action – and sometimes about piquing new interests. When I started at Iowa State, I didn’t know what I wanted to focus on. But, through my research, I’ve gained a passion for renewable natural gas and algae-based biofuels, things I didn’t even know existed before Iowa State!
The learning I am doing in the lab is supplemented by the procedures and theories that I am learning in the classroom. For me, that is the purpose of research in education and why I chose to do research here at Iowa State.
Research is also about enhancing our communication skills. And I’ve learned in classes how to differentiate between technical communication and non-technical communication, but it wasn’t until research conferences that I learned how to adapt to my audience.
Some people want to know everything, other people just want to know how my research is affecting their lives. That second group of people requires researchers to understand policy and economics and current issues.
In our world, I don’t think it is enough to be just a good engineer or a good researcher. We as engineers must understand the impact of our actions and our work, and how to communicate that. For me, research has enabled me to practice and enhance that skill.